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by John Li | 12 April 2010

Do not ask 63 year old Yonfan from which country he attributes his title of being a director to.

“I am a director of the world,” he tells you firmly during an exclusive interview with moviexclusive.com.

Dressed casually in a black jacket and jeans, he adds: “I do not classify myself by region. I do not like to involve myself in commercial markets. In this way, I am freer to make films which have artistic merits.”

Here’s a brief introduction to the director’s biography: Born 1947 in China, Yonfan later migrated with his family from the People’s Republic. He spent his childhood days in Hong Kong and then in Taiwan. After working as a young photographer for a few years in Hong Kong, he left to travel the globe through countries like France, Britain and United States.

Having seen the world, it is of little wonder why he informs you: “Artists like Federico Fellini and Douglas Sirk inspire me,” quoting the famed Italian and German filmmakers as sources of his artistic stimulation.

A glance at the bespectacled director’s filmography will explain why he has such sentiments. After making commercial movies like Lost Romance (1986) and Double Fixation (1987) starring renowned Hong Kong stars Chow Yun-Fat and Jacky Cheung, Yonfan began steering away from the mainstream crowd by directing films like Bishonen (1998), Peony Pavilion (2001) and Colour Blossoms (2004).

One iconic connection he has with Singapore is his 1995 film Bugis Street, which tells the story of a 17 year old girl who works at a small hotel in Bugis Street, where she learns about the harsh realities of life while making a living with the transvestites and transsexuals.

You smile when the refined and articulated Yonfan passes you a DVD of the controversial film when you mention its title.

“Over the years, Singapore has become cleaner and more cosmopolitan,” he laughs in good nature.

While Yonfan’s niche films have gotten some very unkind reviews from the critics, one thing is common amongst them: The visual aesthetics are gorgeous and the cinematography is romantically stunning.

“With every film, I gather these bad and good comments so that I can continue to grow and progress,” Yonfan states, addressing the point about the harsh reviews he has gotten over the years.

Like his last few films, Yonfan’s latest work Prince of Tears features a palette of striking colours. In Singapore recently to promote the film, he reveals that he penned the story some five years ago.

Set in 1950s Taiwan, this period drama takes place during the period known as the “White Terror”, after the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek relocated to Taiwan from China. It imposed martial law and strict one-party dictatorship in 1949, and in subsequent years imprisoned, tortured and killed political opponents.

The production of the film was put on hold upon the completion of the script because of the sensitive political climate in Taiwan five years ago. After it was eventually made, Prince of Tears did not get a positive reception from the Taiwanese government.

“It’s as if this piece of history didn’t even exist,” Yonfan says with a slight tone of disappointment.

Because it was a co production, Hong Kong selected Prince of Tears as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2010 Academy Awards. The film has also been screened at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Pusan International Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival.

“The response from the audiences at these film festivals has been extremely encouraging,” says Yonfan optimistically.

Prince of Tears stars a young cast which includes Joseph Chang (Eternal Summer), Wing Fan (The Best of Times), Terri Kwan (My DNA Says I Love You) and newcomer Zhu Xuan. However, age did not pose as an obstacle during the shooting of the film.

Yonfan is full of praises for the four young actors: “There is no gap of age when it comes to the field of artistry. We all had the same vision and we were like a happy family on set. They portrayed the idealistic and hopeful characters really well and did a wonderful job.”

On why he took on the role of the artistic director for the film, Yonfan explains: “I lived through that era as a child. It is a period which I feel for in my heart. I know how people behaved and how things looked like. That is why I believe that I would be the best person to bring it to screen.”

So what is next for the artistic filmmaker?

“After making a film about my childhood, I’d be making a film about my adolescent years set in 1960s Hong Kong,” he discloses with a chuckle.

Prince of Tears opens 15 April exclusively at The Picturehouse and is reviewed here  



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